Marines secure looters’ nest as base for aid

Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 21 December 1992


AMERICAN marines and Belgian paratroopers yesterday secured the violent Somali port of Kismayo, scene of some of the country’s worst armed clashes and looting of relief food from convoys and ships.

The United States’ special envoy to Somalia, Robert Oakley, met faction leaders in the town on Saturday to negotiate the arrival of the troops, part of the 33,000-strong US-led multinational force being sent to the famine-stricken country to guard relief food convoys.

Colonel Omar Jess, whose Somali Patriotic Movement controls Kismayo, agreed to the arrival of the 230 American and 100 Belgian troops, and there was no resistance as they landed at dawn from amphibious vehicles and helicopters at the harbour and airstrip.

Later this week 460 Belgian reinforcement troops will fly to the town, 230 miles south of the capital Mogadishu, which has not received any relief food since early October because of persistent looting by gunmen.

Military escorts for the food convoys will start when the reinforcements from Belgium and the US Army 10th Mountain Division arrive.

Kismayo will be used as a staging point for trucking food to the Lower Juba valley, where thousands of refugees from the fighting have gathered over the past two years.

The commander of the Belgian forces, Lieutenant-Colonel Marc Jacqmin, said: “In Kismayo we were not even forced to shoot one warning shot. I have a deep feeling people are very happy to see coalition forces and they have shown that.”

He said, however, that he still had to negotiate with Col Jess for all armoured vehicles belonging to the faction to be barred from the town. “I am convinced he will accept that,” he said.

Relief agencies had been pleading with the US-led military force, which landed in Mogadishu on December 9, to deploy in Kismayo as quickly as possible.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, up to 1,000 people may have died during clashes in Kismayo in the past two weeks.

Up to 100 people were killed there on December 8 in what one United Nations relief worker in the town called “targeted clan killings”, which erupted after local militias clashed over whether to accept the arrival of the foreign troops.

Col Jess, who is a member of the four-faction coalition led by Somalia’s main military leader, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, is the most vulnerable of all the warlords whose fighting has led to the famine from which up to 500,000 people have died in the past year.

According to Somali sources in neighbouring Kenya, Kismayo is the main target of forces loyal to the deposed dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, who was overthrown in January 1991 by Gen Aideed’s military coalition.

After a fresh offensive in October, Mr Siad Barre’s forces are now less than 50 miles north of Kismayo, where they are led by his son-in-law, General Said Hersi Morgan.

The anti-Barre coalition is regarded as having quickly accepted the arrival of the foreign troops largely because they are the only line of defence against Gen Morgan’s forces.

Somalis are prejudiced European troops because of the country’s colonial history, but reassured by the American leadership of the operation, Col Jess says.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited